Tonia Ransom works as an editor, producer, creator, and writer of all things terrifying, shocking, and horrible. Many fans of the genre know her from her amazing work with the NIGHTLIGHT podcast that publishes horror stories from Black authors. The show also features interviews with the authors that shine an even brighter light on the creators and their efforts. Risen, Ransom’s debut novella, is spooky, touching, and teeming with hoodoo magic. And from time to time, she even writes for this site.
I was able to catch up with her and ask some questions about her career, NIGHTLIGHT, and what she’s got going on currently.
Aigner Loren Wilson: Where to start! You’re the founder, editor, and host of NIGHTLIGHT, author of Risen, a new horror book about death and dying, and a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards. You’re involved in almost every aspect of horror. How exactly did that all come about?
Tonia Ransom: Honestly? Hustling. Looking for opportunities and being ready when they arose. I waited a long time to start NIGHTLIGHT, and in many ways, I regret putting it off, but starting the podcast began to open so many opportunities for me. Telling stories on Twitter opened even more. I just concentrated on getting my name out there in the world. I started going to conferences and meeting other writers and publishers. The more people who know you, the better chances you have at your name coming up in conversations about opportunities. That wasn’t my original intention, though.
I told Twitter stories to entertain people. I started NIGHTLIGHT to uplift Black horror writers. I went to conferences to find new authors to publish on the podcast and build my listenership. The opportunities just came along with it, particularly the Shirley Jackson Awards juror opportunity. I made a good impression on the right people and was asked to join the team. I’m so grateful for that opportunity and all the opportunities I’ve received.
ALW: So, I met you when you bought my first short story for NIGHTLIGHT. That was such a special moment for me, and I’m sure that I’m not the only writer who you have helped make their first sale. What is it like finding emerging Black horror voices out there and offering them a platform?
TR: It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s amazing to get those emails from authors celebrating their first sale and thanking me. It’s such an honor to be part of an author’s journey and giving them that little boost of confidence they need to keep going. Writing is hard work. It’s sometimes incredibly demoralizing, and I’m so thankful that I sometimes get to be that light that authors need to keep going. I remember the feeling I had when I made my first sale—that I could do this writing thing and actually make some money at it. It changed my life. To be able to pay it forward to others is the best feeling in the world.
ALW: I’m always curious on how authors found their language of horror. So, what influences led to you discovering your voice and horror style?
TR: The Twilight Zone is a huge influence for me. I grew up watching it, and I still watch it today. I love the twist endings, and particularly enjoy the episodes based on stories by Richard Matheson. I love the sense of examining the human condition, peering deeply into our fears as a nation. I think great horror has to tap into those fears that we all share in some way.
You may use ghosts or werewolves as the metaphor, but the story is always actually about something very human—our fear of the other, our fear of abandonment, our fear of technological advances. In everything I write, I try to accomplish that. I don’t always succeed ☺. I try to do the same with the stories I publish on NIGHTLIGHT. If a story has a Twilight Zone vibe, it’s almost a guaranteed sale. At the end of the day, my style is examining what it means to be human through the lens of horror, with a surprise ending that’s inevitable, but that you don’t see coming.
I started writing Risen 10 years ago. Once I realized it was about my dad’s death, I had to put it away because it was too painful. It was painful, but losing my job and the pandemic kind of forced me to finish it for a little bit of income. I’m so glad I did and that people are enjoying it. It’s a great feeling.
ALW: Speaking on influences, are you reading or watching anything now that is having an effect on your horror writing?
TR: I’ve been going back to the Twilight Zone again lately, but aside from that, I’ve been reading the work of Richard Matheson and Shirley Jackson. I have a soft spot for stories written before my time. I listen to Old Time Radio, particularly the show Suspense and The Whistler. I’ve loved The Haunting series on Netflix directed by Mike Flanagan as well—retelling those old stories from a modern lens is what I seek to do with my own work.
ALW: Are you working on anything currently that you’d like to talk about?
TR: I’m working on a new audio drama, but I’m also pitching it as a TV series. We’ll see how it gets picked up first! It’s a cross between Lovecraft Country and True Blood and pays homage to my roots as a Black girl from the South. It’s got hoodoo, a portal to a hellish dimension, monsters, and unnatural disasters. I can’t wait for it to find a home. Like Risen, it’s a love letter to my family and the struggles we’ve overcome.
ALW: Since February is Women in Horror Month, are there any other writers you’d like to shine a light on for readers to check out?
TR: Tananarive Due always comes to mind, but I feel like most people know about her. Aside from her, Brea Grant is amazing. She’s got a film she directed and wrote called 12 Hour Shift that’s on Hulu, and it’s one of the best movies I saw last year. Another film she wrote called Lucky should be premiering on Shudder later this year.
ALW: Any upcoming or past projects that you’d like to spotlight?
TR: I’m going to be starting another book soon, as well as a feature film. I expect to have them both complete by the end of the year, but my goal is by the end of the summer! The book is tentatively called 13 Kills, and it’s about a vampire girl who must kill 13 times to grow up. The feature film is about a race of people who live underground called The Dark People and their fight against the above-grounders called The Light People.
ALW: And lastly, where would you like people to go to purchase your books, read your stories, or support you?
TR: Readers can buy Risen on Amazon. The paperback will be coming out in March. You can listen to NIGHTLIGHT pretty much anywhere, but our website is nightlightpod.com. You can support me directly on my Patreon, or support NIGHTLIGHT’s Patreon here, and you can follow me online on Twitter or Instagram.